- The Washington Times - Friday, September 19, 2008

Samuel L. Jackson’s cop character in “Lakeview Terrace” takes the “protect and serve” part of his job seriously on - and off - duty. He doesn’t take kindly to finding cigarette butts on his property or having his children witness his neighbors’ sexual hijinks in their pool.

Mixed-race couples really grind his gears.

“Lakeview Terrace” imagines the fallout from moving next door to an L.A. cop on the edge, but it avoids most of that setup’s inherent pitfalls.

Interracial couple Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa (Kerry Washington) move in to their first home, situated in a California cul-de-sac, and they’re eager to make nice with their new neighbors.

The homeowner next door, Abel Turner (Mr. Jackson), lords over the block like a field marshal. The widower is just as demanding in his own home, making sure his children speak proper English and ensuring that their moral compasses point north.

He’s the perfect neighbor except that he doesn’t see any shades of gray when it comes to people’s behavior - or their dating habits. He frowns on white men dating black women, and he intimates that to Chris when they first meet.

Or does he? Mr. Jackson’s sly performance makes it hard to pin Abel down as a monster, at least in the early sequences.

The neighborly tension slowly builds from that early exchange, and the escalation is handled with a keen sense of balance. Sure, Abel is as unbending as an oak tree, but Chris’ initial actions are selfish enough to warrant Abel’s glare.

It’s only a matter of time before the new neighbors set aside any pretense of civility. Chris and Lisa’s relationship suffers a series of marital strains, and Abel’s muscular arrest of a suspect puts him under the watchful eye of internal affairs.

Add a California wildfire raging near their homes, and all the ingredients for an L.A. meltdown are ready to boil.

“Lakeview Terrace” sounds like the typical September release, a pulp fiction grinding toward a bloody denouement - but the director is provocateur Neil LaBute. His history of mining drama from societal miscreants in films including 2003’s “The Shape of Things” prepared him for the racial strife. of “Terrace.”

The racists here are mostly black, not white, and even Lisa’s father (Ron Glass) can’t so much as look Chris directly in the eye. Mr. Jackson grounds Abel so well that at times he gains more audience approval than Chris or Lisa.

Too bad the otherwise taut screenplay feels compelled to outline the rationale for Abel’s bigotry as the film heads toward its noisy climax.

Still, “Lakeview Terrace” fulfills its potboiler goals while also leaving viewers uneasy about what could happen when someone moves next door to the wrong neighbor.

Audiences will wince over how easily Abel turns the American dream of homeownership on its ear.

★★★

TITLE: “Lakeview Terrace”

RATING: PG:13 (Adult language, sexual situations and partial nudity)

CREDITS: Directed by Neil LaBute. Screenplay by David Loughery and Howard Korder.

RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes

WEB SITE: https://www.sony pictures.com/movies/lakeviewterrace/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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